Category Archives: Sports Militaria
In part I of this series, I focused my attention on a transaction (hopefully the only one) between the National World War II Museum and Bands for Arms, discussing the handling of artifacts that had been donated to the museum by individuals. Part I is the catalyst for this series, but today’s could stand on it’s own.
With that ordeal between those two entities and the militaria collector community, it is debatable as to whether the collectors are actually happy with the results. While the artifacts in question were decided (by the museum staffer) to not have been World War II pieces, that doesn’t equate to them not being historically significant or valuable to militaria collectors.
In other areas of collecting, destroying an historic artifact for the sum of it’s parts is nothing new. Even within the area of military collecting it is still practiced — stripping uniforms of decorations, patches, buttons, etc. — yet it is frowned upon by purists.
Being a huge fan of major and minor league baseball, I dabbled in this arena of collecting, including baseball cards. My financial resources were limited so I had to collect within my means, focusing on certain aspects rather than any and all cards. I recall some card manufacturers in the 1990s launched into a practice of adding “insert” or special cards that were limited in production into their card sets making them rare and highly desirable among collectors. As the fervor increased with each new series or product line, so did the drive to make the insert cards more significant and create increased demand. This translated into significant revenue generation for the card companies.
I started to get disenchanted with sports cards at the point where they began destroying pieces of history for profit. Several card companies were acquiring rare artifacts (specifically, bats and uniforms) that were attributed to legendary ball players, cutting them into ¾-inch square pieces and mounting these into special insert cards. Imagine shredding a game-worn Babe Ruth jersey such as a 1920 Yankees road uniform top – which ultimately sold for $4,4m – into a few hundred little pieces. It has been done… several times.
Baseball players do wear a number of uniforms throughout a season – multiples of both home and road. Considering the typically lengthy Hall-of-Fame careers, these stars will don a considerable number of uniforms. For combat veterans who only served during a conflict, their uniform count will be significantly less. Veterans of World War II often returned with just the dress uniform they were wearing. When the war was over, these veterans either disposed of their military garb or stowed it away in the closet or attic.
To reiterate, militaria collectors do not take issue with veterans’ (or their families) decisions to donate their own uniforms to companies like Bands for Arms. What is difficult to contend with is the loss of the military heritage and connection to individual history through these uniforms. Would anyone imagine doing the same thing with a uniform from Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant John Basilone?
Would the band buyers rush to purchase a bracelet made from Major Richard Winters (of “Band of Brothers” fame) uniform? I’d imagine that bracelets made from these high-profile veterans would necessitate a boosted sale price, which would lead to a considerable amount of funds for the museum’s upkeep. But at what cost?
After spending more than two decades working in some capacity in a career field in the Internet industry, I have gained a considerable amount of understanding of user behaviors and tendencies. One of the most challenging user behaviors (for online content providers) to overcome is how to motivate them to actually read written content.
Countless usability studies conducted over the last decade (see UXMyths.com’s article: Myth #1: People read on the web) reveal that internet users seldom read text on the computer, tablet or smart phone screen. News media and some shady business tend to rely on this fact spending more effort on hooking audiences with headlines or product names (and photos) with the idea that the facts and details will be left unread.
Another facet of audiences not reading text is the unintended consequences. I bet this has happened to most, if not all of my readers. You search Google for an item that you want or need and hundreds of results are displayed. You see scroll through the countless listings, skimming through each blurb (abbreviated description) until you find the one that interests you the most. In a matter of seconds, confirming that the item meets your approval, credit card in hand, you quickly walk through the buying process and click the “purchase” button. After several days of tracking the shipment, it finally arrives. Excited, you tear into the box, rifle through the packaging to get hold of your eagerly anticipated item. Within a few milliseconds you discover that a mistake has been made and frustration begins to build. After a 20-minute search through your 85 gigabytes of emails, you find the order confirmation and you are ready to contact the company to confront them on their mistake. Then you realize that you are the one who didn’t read the entire product description. Sound familiar?
In the last few days as I was looking through my eBay searches, I noticed a listing for a U.S. Special Services WWII-era baseball. The listing seemed to be fairly straight forward and the $22.00 opening bid amount was consistent with what these balls routinely sell for ($20-$40), dependent upon whether they are Army, Navy or USMC variations. When I clicked on the link to view the entire auction, I noticed that the seller had included some contextual images of the ball along with other items that were not part of the auction.
The description, in part reads:
This auction is for one (1) baseball, the gloves are shown for reference only. These balls where found in an old canvas US Army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown. One glove is dated 1945 and stamped US Army, and the other glove is stamped special services US Army. The special services where greatly different in WW2 than they are today, back then they where in charge of recreation, and other “special items” for the troops. You will receive the ball pictured alone in the pics.
I clicked through the series of photos that showed the canvas bucket filled with baseballs and three WWII-era baseball gloves. Then, I looked at the current bid amount and my jaw hit the floor. With four days left for the auction, the current bid (of five bids from four bidders) was $275.00! How could the bids be so exorbitant; so high for a single, common WWII baseball? I re-read the description and paid close attention to the images of the ball. There was absolutely nothing that out of the ordinary about this ball. Then, it occurred to me that the bidders failed to read the full text of the auction or the auction title. When the auction closes and the highest bidder pays for the auction, he will eagerly anticipate the arrival of the ball, the canvas bucket, three vintage gloves and several other baseballs. When the diminutive package arrives, the reality will set in along with a massive pile of anger and frustration. The auction winner will either blast the seller for deception or feel like a complete idiot for not reading the auction description.
With two days left (at the time of writing this article), there are five bidders that have placed 10 bids. The current highest bid is $535.00 for an ordinary (lone) WWII baseball that is now, $490.00 overvalued.
A costly lesson is about to be learned.
Why Collect Militaria?
I try to resist talking to people outside my sphere of militaria collecting acquaintances and friends for the simple reason that I choose to avoid the typical unrehearsed (body language) responses when they learn this particular interest of mine. You might have experienced it – the glazed, vacant stare – uninterested people seem to look way past you as you cautiously respond to someone seeking to learn something about you.
The perception is that militaria collectors are interested in a bunch of junk that can be found for pennies-on-the-dollar at a mildew-laden military surplus store. They assume that we are gobsmacked by olive-drab army fatigues, rusty canteens and other military cast-off items. You should see the eyes roll when I attempt to describe what truly inspires my collecting.
Militaria collecting represents an extensive and broad range of categories. For certain, there are elements such as uniforms, edged weapons, head-wear and medals/decorations at the hobby’s core. But there is incredible variety in this “genre.” Though my own collection pays homage to my veteran ancestors and relatives, I have dabbled in a few of these non-standard areas in militaria collecting. One in particular is the product of combining two passions sports (specifically baseball) and military history. I wouldn’t consider myself a hard core collector in this area, but I have been fortunate enough to land some great pieces that align these two interests. Other than my other focus area (naval history) which I have covered extensively, military sports, namely baseball, has been the subject of many postings in the past 12 months at CollectorsQuest:
- Stars, Stripes and Diamonds: Photographs of America’s Pastime in Uniform
- The Corps on the Diamond: US Marines Baseball Uniforms
- Signature Soapbox (Coming soon)
Collecting militaria can pose some financial challenges when faced with stiff competition for rare or exceptional items. This is something I routinely face as with my special interest in items pertaining to a specific U.S. Navy warship (actually four of them) that was named for a city in Indiana. When items associated with this ship turn up in online auction listings, the competition can get rather fierce, pushing the bidding price out of my range of affordability. There are times when one of the pieces does manage to slip past my competitors allowing my maximum bid to be sufficient in securing the prize. These are rare occurrences that when they do happen, I am elated to the point of becoming borderline-addicted to collecting.
The point of militaria collecting is that it provides for a hands-on connection with history that transcends what is talked or written about in print. It provides those who are interested with a method to comprehend historic events or people while transforming what is read in books or portrayed on screen into (nearly) living history.
In future posts you will, no doubt, observe trends that belie my interests and what I tend to focus my collecting on. However, I will also attempt to provide you with informative posts in order to share the knowledge I’ve gained from a vast network of collectors, historians, museum curators and several other knowledgeable people in order to assist you in making wise decisions with your acquisitions.